Sunday 2 March 2014

The fraternal twins

Tonu thumped his son’s back, happy with the terms of the contract Diga had drawn up. He looked up at his daughter in the family picture on the wall opposite him. Digna too had done him proud that morning, making such a good pitch overseas for the project.

And to think that just a few years back he had almost written off his son, though he never let his disappointment show. Of the fraternal twins, Digna was the prankster and the daredevil, and her brother the tame follower. But the tide had truly turned one day. 
Digna lost her footing in the strong current.
Digital sketch: Harjeet 
That was the day they had gone to Haridwar.

Pradya’s face had lost all colour. She saw the strong river current carrying away her daughter while Diga stood rooted to the ground. He couldn’t swim. And he was terrified … terrified of any and every adventure.

Minutes before, he had just dipped a toe in the holy Ganga waters and receded to a safe spot away from the bank. Digna would never do that. She must take risks all the time. Diga was afraid to even sit by the river, lest it sweep him away. Digna knew no such fear, though she too could not swim.

She had gone down the steps and grabbed one of the stout chains grouted into the embankment for holding on to when taking a holy dip. The icy waters thrilled her no end, and she made bold to wade a little farther into the gushing river. Suddenly there was no solid ground under her feet. The current had lifted her off the steps, and in the unexpectedness of it all she let go of the chain.

She could feel the water washing her away, but an iron hand caught her before she had gone too far. As he clung to a chain with one hand and to his sister with the other, Diga called out to his father to help bring her in.

Pradya rushed to her husband’s side to haul their children up the slippery steps. Diga wept from sheer relief. He took Digna to a dry, secluded patch where their mother dried her. Then he stood guard while Digna changed behind the large towel Pradya held around her. All this time he and his mother tried to hush Digna, for she was almost hysterical with laughter.

Of course she was in shock, but she was also used to laughing off her troubles. Her brother, in sharp contrast, was a conservative lad. It was as if the genes of the fraternal twins had got mixed up. Digna was an aggressive girl with don-like looks, and Diga timid and very girlish. Their dissimilarities never failed to astonish.

Like the time she had tried to dislodge a drain pipe on the terrace just because the nuts and screws holding it in place were somewhat loose. Diga simply stood by helplessly, unable to dissuade her.

Or when she ambushed an old man and nearly gave him a heart attack. Another time she poured oil into a pail of water the manservant Aastu was using to wash the porch with. Had he slipped on the oily water, he might have ended up with a broken leg or back. It was sheer luck that Diga warned him just before he splashed it on the floor.

Diga had been overwhelmed by his sister’s sheer presence, perhaps from the cradle. She used to bawl loudly while he scarcely whimpered, lying beside her. As they grew up, it was Digna’s peals of laughter that rang out loud and clear, not Diga’s protests. He had pretty early in life learnt not to mind her shenanigans, happy to just watch.

At school, Digna participated in every activity and won medals and certificates. Diga was known more as Digna’s brother. His teachers took few pains with the self-effacing boy. He attended every class, submitted assignments on time, never asked a question, spoke when spoken to, and stayed in his seat during recess. Apart from the compulsory physical education classes, he shunned every sport and contest, but he did well in academics.

Digna’s near-brush with death changed Diga forever. He had grown older in that one second when she was nearly gone. A self-centred and headstrong girl till then, Digna too began paying heed to her brother and his advice. A fine balance developed between their personalities – she picked up some grace while he gained confidence. 

Her dangerous adventures found a new monitor in her brother. She could no longer stand in the middle of the road and wave down an unwilling cabbie. Diga would push her back to the pavement. She had to wear properly matched clothes, too, not any slapstick combinations. Those weird hair colours and baubles also became a thing of the past.

A relationship in which she took Diga for granted had now transformed into a more caring, sharing attachment. Digna sought his advice when selecting her college course, and consulted him when they chose to go abroad for higher studies. They were now the twins their parents had always wanted them to be – highly telepathic and mutually respectful of their strengths and weaknesses. 

It was not just Tonu who was thankful for the change triggered by that one act of bravery. Pradya was equally grateful for it, grateful that Digna was finally giving her twin his share of space and place in society. Digna picked for him a trendier wardrobe. She bamboozled him into taking up golf, and involved him in the young people’s society she had helped set up. She even talked him into attending social get-togethers, so important for their chosen careers.

They had both decided to join their father’s business after studies, and soon became popular in Tonu’s office. Diga’s keen sense of the law and Digna’s architecture degree had boosted their company’s prospects, and chances of a regular profit and a handsome dividend for their shareholders had created a cheerful environment both at home and at work.

Tonu packed his laptop and stood up to go home. Diga was at his side in a trice, taking charge of his father. As they drove home, Tonu confessed to him for the first time how his feelings had changed towards him, from bare tolerance to pride, revelling in his son’s achievements. Diga smilingly heard him through. Tonu at last asked him where he had picked up the courage to leap to his sister’s rescue.

Diga said with a smile: “The impulse to save her. The mere thought of losing my sister made me rush in. Not in my wildest dreams would I have done that otherwise, Dad! With due apologies to you and Mom, she was even then my universe and remains so.”

“I’m sure it’s mutual. And why apologise? Which parent would not want that?” Tonu retorted. 

They laughed at the nettled look that Pradya gave them. She had heard the last bit as she met them in the porch.

“All’s well,” Tonu reassured her. “It is your daughter we are talking about. We’ll worry when one or both of them fall in love and have to expand their universe to admit someone else into it.”

Diga had no time for such talk yet. He was already splayed across the sofa, making a long-distance call to his sister.

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